An Album (and a Baby) in the Works
Though the pandemic stalled many a musician after it hit in early 2020, Joss Stone worked on various enterprises (new tunes, her foundation, and a podcast among them). But most of her attention was soon devoted to a baby bump. On 14 September, she publicly announced her pregnancy (in sign language) on an Instagram video. Before that, she and Stewart, her co-producer/faithful collaborator, already had spent time at his Bay Street Studios in the Bahamas writing most of the songs for Never Forget My Love. Stone’s eighth studio album is her first full-length since 2015’s Water for Your Soul, a reggae-flavored concoction that cemented her all-world status. This latest project will be released on Bay Street Records, Stewart’s label.
Splitting time living in Nashville and the Bahamas, he previously co-produced LP1 with Stone in 2011. They were members of the one-off group SuperHeavy that same year with Mick Jagger, Damian Marley, and A.R. Rahman.
The decision to work again with Stewart, now a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee as an ex-member of Eurythmics with Annie Lennox, was an easy one for Stone, who has called him “young at heart”. Stone laughs after hearing this quote about Stewart from my 2013 interview with Stevie Nicks, who worked with him on her In Your Dreams documentary project.
That experience “was just nonstop fun. It was kind of like all the parents went away and left the kids,” Nicks said then. “That’s such a lovely way of explaining it,” Stone attests. “Dave, he does that. He’s very fun. He doesn’t do anything not fun. He doesn’t want to do it. If anything becomes boring, he’s like, ‘Nope. I’m out. See ya.’ It’s great.”
Those characteristics help make Stewart a great producer, Stone believes. “He definitely doesn’t want to push anyone to do something they don’t like, because that’s not fun. I think Dave decided long ago that we can have a lovely time [making a record]. This doesn’t have to be horrible.”
Maybe not, but they did face a few hurdles. Stone and Stewart also were writing songs for a musical called The Time Traveller’s Wife, and she barely made it into the Bahamas the day before the country was locked down because of the pandemic. Just getting over morning sickness then, Stone remembers Stewart getting ill “for like ten days, so we just sat there in the house. (laughs) It was crazy.”
The expectant mother was seven months pregnant when they began recording at Nashville’s Blackbird studios with basically the same musicians who played on LP1, including Tom Bukovac, whom she calls “an amazing guitar player”. Her first single, the album’s title cut, was released this November, followed by “Breaking Each Other’s Hearts” on Christmas Eve.
In November 2020, Stone and DaLuz (who grew up in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and served in Afghanistan with the US Air Force) finally found a home, thanks partly to Stewart’s suggestion to search around Nashville. “I didn’t really live anywhere properly [as an artist], you know?” she admits. “And my partner was also quite nomadic. And we thought, ‘Oooh, this looks nice.’… I do like it. I do miss home [growing up in Ashill, a village in the English county of Devon]. I think, of course, home is where the heart is, but if you’re gonna live anywhere outside of your home, surround yourself with music.” (laughs)
While figuring all was in place to focus on the arrival of her firstborn, Stone was caught by surprise when she was told her vocals on the album were distorted and needed to be re-recorded. That chore would have to wait, though. There was a baby on the way.
Take 2 for Voice of Reason
Calling it “a bloody pain in the ass”, Stone still manages to look on the bright side of life after re-recording her vocals for the album following Violet’s birth. “Somehow, if there’s a God, he came down and said, ‘Don’t worry, Joss. Your voice is restricted because you’ve got a person in your stomach. I’m going to completely mess up these recordings, so they are unusable, and you will have to redo it.’ So that’s what happened,” Stone remembers.
“I ended up recording my voice again in Devon when I just had Violet, which was actually quite good because I had time to sit with the songs. So when we wrote the songs, it was all very quick. Everything with Dave is quick. ‘Cause like I said, he doesn’t like things that are boring. …
“I like to sing live with the band. That’s the most fun for me because of the energy and that’s how we [originally] recorded it. So I was a bit bummed because you lose that moment, but actually, it really was a blessing in disguise. I had her in my tummy squashing — literally squashing my instrument. So I could do it, and it sounded all right. I liked it ,but it was way better when I re-sang it. It really was. So I’m so glad that we did. It was just clearer, and some of those really high notes were just easier.”
While working together this time, Stone and Stewart came up with a phrase to summarize this record — “Think Long Gloves and a Dress” — while making it part of an overall presentation that conveys the feeling of sophisticated ballroom singers and other notable performers of a bygone era like Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin.
“When we were doing ‘The Greatest Secret’,” Stone recollects, “he would say, ‘I can imagine the dancers will come out and they’ll do the tango while you’re singing with one light on.’ So we’d talk about the long dress and the gloves. To me, this is what this record is. It’s classy. And that’s how I want people to kind of experience it. I want them to know that it was special to me. I hope that it’s special to them.”
Of course, her voice — often accompanied by strings and a brass section — takes these songs to gorgeous heights throughout the album. There’s a whole lotta love and heartbreak expressed on ten songs in 45 minutes. It doesn’t matter whether Stone is singing the ever-hopeful and carefree “When You’re In Love” or “about a past boyfriend that was a bastard” on the slow-building, courageous anthem “You Couldn’t Kill Me”, which she said was written about ten years ago.
The newer tune probably was the album’s most enjoyable to make, according to Stone, because, “It’s so sweet and happy. Even talking about it makes me smile. It’s a sweet, lovely feeling.”
Stone takes those positive thoughts wherever she goes, usually smiling along the way — even if she gets ridiculed for it. Addressing a TV interview with Good Morning Britain in August 2020, when she took a lot of heat for providing tips for happiness from the Bahamas during the pandemic, Stone explains, “Well, that’s the [United Kingdom]. (laughs) So that’s pretty standard in the UK, I would say. I made a podcast called ‘A Cuppa Happy’ ’cause I thought we all needed a little bit of help mentally as well.”
No wonder one of her album’s songs is titled “No Regrets”.